The Deceiving Heart

Dear Church Family,

This month we are praying for PCA missionaries Kris and Paula Lundgaard who are serving in Slovakia. I’ve mentioned before that I believe that Kris Lundgaard’s book The Enemy Within is one of the best studies and helps in battling sin in our lives toward sanctification. In that book, Kris describes how according to the Bible, the ‘heart’ is described as including much more than feelings. The heart comprises the mind (thoughts, plans, judgments), the will (choices and actions), affections (desires, feelings, revulsions), and the conscience (sense of right and wrong).

He also gives a helpful insight into our understanding (or rather, lack of understanding) of the heart: “We modestly admit we don’t know someone else’s heart, but the truth is we can’t even know our own. Do you always know why you choose chocolate over vanilla? Why one day your passions sizzle and another you’re a dead leaf in the wind? Can you number all the events and images that impress your heart and make it lean this way or that? Haven’t you been surprised by the insincerity and even intrigue you’ve found in your heart?” (pp 36-37)

The Pluck of Pluckers

This insight into the mystery of the inner-workings of the heart is evident in Scripture: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). I am reminded of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet where, in Act 3, Scene 2, Hamlet’s two friends are trying to ‘help’ him. They really don’t know what’s going on and why Hamlet is so upset (Hamlet has learned that his uncle has murdered his father and married his mother!), but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern think that they can provide good counsel nonetheless. In this way, these two men are not much unlike Job’s friends.

As Hamlet is trying to fend off their unwanted advice and counsel, finally Hamlet is exasperated. He picks up a recorder (a flute) and asks Guildenstern, “Will you play upon this pipe?” Guildenstern responds, “I have not the skill.” So, Hamlet lays into him,

“Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me. You would seem to know my stops. You would pluck out the heart of my mystery. You would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass. And there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak? 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.”

Hamlet derides Guildenstern for thinking that he can understand another person’s heart. In other words, “You don’t have the skill to play this simple flute, but you actually think that you can understand and play my heart?!” And the truth of the matter is that Hamlet doesn’t even understand the courses and tributaries of his own heart!

This is a truth which all people – especially Christians – need to understand. Jeremiah says that the heart of man is not only desperately sick, but is more deceitful than all else. Our hearts deceive even us. Christians, even after they have been redeemed and given a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), continue to be deceived by their own hearts.

Semi-transcendence

To better deal with our hearts that often deceive us, it is helpful for believers to learn the discipline of some refer to as semi-transcendence. Semi-transcendence is the ability to be both inside or ourselves and to step outside of ourselves at the same time. If that sounds confusing, consider the words of the Apostle Paul as he speaks to this idea: “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Paul says that it is a small thing to be examined or judged by other human beings. What’s more, Paul confesses that he can’t even examine or judge myself. Just because Paul finds himself innocent that doesn’t mean that he is. No, the one who examines or judges Paul is the Lord. That’s semi-transcendence. The discipline of learning to be self-aware enough to know that you cannot always trust your own heart; at the same time, learning to step outside of yourself to be able to view yourself (and your heart) with the objectivity of God’s examinations and judgments.

Conclusion

So, where do you learn about what God says about you? Where do you learn God’s examination and judgment of your heart? You learn God’s judgment and examinations in the Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

There is much more that could be said, but let this be an encouragement to you in your Bible reading and study. The Word of God tells us that it is able to judge the thought and intentions of the heart. The Word of God also self-attests to its usefulness in training the heart: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Even more foundational, however, the Word of God is that place where we find the declaration of God’s promises to those who trust in Christ. Our own hearts may alternately acquit and condemn us, but when we read the truths of God’s Word in what He says about us we will find true assurance. If you belong to Christ, God has called you (Romans 8:30), regenerated you (Ephesians 2:4-5), given you the gift of faith and justified you (Ephesians 2:8-9), adopted you as a son (Galatians 4:4-5), sealed and sanctified you through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 6:18-20), and will perfect His work of redemption in you on the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Though your hearts may deceive you and even condemn you, God promises to give you assurance by His Word and His Spirit. And, God is able to do this because He is “greater than our heart and knows all things” (1 John 3:19-20).

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch